Vet saves the pets left behind at new year

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 28 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 28 February, 2010, 12:00am

As tens of millions of migrant workers head from Guangdong to their hometowns for the Lunar New Year holiday, they often abandon their pets outside railway stations. Shenzhen veterinarian Rong Tuqin , 26, talks about animals that are rejected by the mainland's transport system and never see their owners again.

Is pet desertion a common phenomenon ahead of the holiday?

Definitely. Abandoned pets are a typical problem every year as the Lunar New Year holiday approaches. It's heartbreaking to see that many people just walk away and leave their pets behind at stations after the animals were forbidden to board either trains or buses. The latest news photo that wrenched my heart was of a group of undergraduate volunteers trying to catch an abandoned dog with a paper bag outside Guangzhou Railway Station. The dog looks helpless and sorrowful. Because many of the abandoned pets are adult cats or dogs, their chances of being readopted are very slim. People who can afford pets tend to buy immature and pretty ones from shops rather than adopt from animal shelters. Although there are no national statistics on pet abandonment, the situation is worrying, according to mainland media. I was told that dozens of pets have been abandoned across the province's railway and bus stations.

Why do owners abandon their pets?

The country's public transport does not allow passengers to bring pets onto railway carriages, and a pesky procedure of handling pets as unaccompanied baggage prohibits owners travelling with them. Very few owners know that only pets with health certificates are allowed to travel as unaccompanied baggage on planes or trains. It takes one to two working days to apply for the special health certificate from animal quarantine stations, but owners were usually not aware of that.

Would it be difficult if people want to travel with their pets on the mainland?

Yes, very few Chinese have given much thought to travelling with pets. For most Chinese, pets have long been treated as a toy or a guard rather than a family member. Actually, eating dog or cat meat was a traditional custom in Chinese culture until a recent anti-cruelty law was passed, making it illegal to eat or sell dog and cat meat. It's no surprise when travellers with their pets receive neither sufficient service nor information from transport operators. As far as I know, pets that are handled as unaccompanied baggage will be placed in luggage carriages without air conditioning, and it's a tough journey for them.

Have you taken in any abandoned pets ahead of the holidays?

Four dogs in the past three years. Some owners who can't afford veterinary expenses just abandon their pets outside our hospitals. Although there's no research regarding to what extent abandonment hurts pets' feelings, we have seen abandoned animals lose their appetites for a week and whine all day. They usually have low spirits, act gloomy or sleep excessively. Pets that know they were abandoned often develop behavioural problems such as chewing on the furniture or messing in the house. We're also overloaded with pets that need temporary care during the Lunar New Year. This year, a veterinarian and three nurses were on duty to take care of some 30 cats and dogs. It cost around 210 yuan (HK$240) for an owner to leave a pet with us during the seven-day holiday. That fee covers food, housing and daily outdoor exercise.

Do you still enjoy working with animals?

Yes, I've worked as a veterinarian for three years after graduating from a Jiangsu university. Curing rare animal diseases brings me challenges as well as joys. Every day is different. Last week, we cut out a breast tumour from a five-year-old wolfhound and it has gradually recovered. Being a veterinarian is more than just treating sick and injured animals. You need to communicate with owners about their pets' wellness and discuss possible treatment with them.